Planning officers feel they are becoming more like traffic wardens, directing people through consultation after consultation.
According to one officer, it is like 'treading in treacle'. The process is getting 'longer and more convoluted, with less time for the creative part of planning and rolling up your sleeves with the developer'.
And the feeling is there is 'no link between consultation and results'.
'We have a good new Planning Act but it has been drowned by regulation,' says one officer. For example, fulfilling the obligations of community involvement: 'There is a mismatch between the size of bureaucracy attached to the task and the resources for it. There is a danger people will be crushed under all of this.'
In the planning world there is a lurking disquiet over regional assemblies. Some quarters have been vocal about it, as seen by councils in the north-west announcing they intend to withdraw from their assembly (LGC, 14 April). Others have not raised their heads above the parapet to voice their discontent, but the feelings are there. 'There is an unspoken view that regional government is a waste of time,' says one
officer. 'The resounding 'no' in the north-east was seen as quite a relief.'
Some councils are anxious about the lack of evidence used by their regional assembly to develop the regional spatial strategy. But the assemblies do have their uses, according to one officer who says economies of scale enable them to collect planning information.
Officers are split on how best to define the regions. One view is that the nine regions carved up by the government are 'administratively convenient' but 'do not reflect the economy'. They would be better defined around city regions because they make economic sense.
By contrast in rural areas, planners feel the Northern Way project is bypassing them by focusing on city regions, not recognising that many people who work in cities live in rural areas. Rural councils are left to pick up the bill for waste collection, transport and affordable homes. And planning teams have been trying to achieve sustainable communities long before deputy prime minister John Prescott told them to. 'The national impetus is catching up with what we've been doing,' says one officer.
The problem with the government jumping on the bandwagon is that it starts to change the rules, the process and the funding streams - which creates confusion.